Believe it or not, karaoke is the most-popular fun thing to do with friends when you go out in Beijing. It easily trumps dancing, bar-hopping, bowling, or eating. In the US, karaoke is a strange activity reserved for bachelor parties. In Japan, it's something that male-coworkers do late at night, accompanied by heavy drinking.
In Beijing, it's something you do all the time, with friends and co-workers, without any expectation of drinking. In fact, most people will only drink tea, since liquor "dulls your vocal cords." One couple we know is so into karaoke that they chose to do it on their wedding anniversary. No one was the least bit surprised.
Given its central role in Beijing's social life, we had to try it ourselves. Since none of us was brave enough to join the many karaoke outings to which we had been invited, we decided that a family outing (to practice) was the best way to start. Sharon's friend Denise was coming to town for her birthday, so we figured a night of karaoke would be a great way to celebrate!
Beijing's most popular and fancy karaoke place happens to be in the same building as Sharon's office. It's open 24 hours a day, and is always packed. When Sharon called to make a reservation for five people at six, they actually asked if she meant 6a or 6p!
On the appointed day we made our way to the venue, appropriately named "Party World". As you can see from the photo we had taken outside, none of us was quite sure what awaited within...
After checking in, we were ushered upstairs to our private room. Party World has more than 100 such rooms, each one carefully soundproofed. As you walk down the beautifully-appointed corridors, you can faintly hear people singing behind the closed and padded doors. Every so often one of the doors opens, and you're greeted by a blast of crooning to pre-recorded music. Bustling in and out of the rooms were scores of tuxedo-clad waiters bringing drinks and clearing dishes.
First stop was the dinner buffet, which is included in the room rental: unlimited food and non-alcoholic drinks. Think Las Vegas meets Chinatown and you'll get the idea. The food wasn't gourmet, but it was tasty and plentiful. After filling our plates, we hustled back to the room for some singing!
Sami and I quickly commandeered the high-tech control panel, with which we created a play list of songs. The listings were voluminous -- everything from Ted Williams and Cole Porter to Britney Spears and Alanis Morrisette. The girls were especially thrilled by the selection of Broadway classics and Disney soundtracks.
Without further ado, we plunged in!
Of course, no trip down memory lane would be complete without a romp through the tunes from Saturday Night Fever. When the Beegees started "Stayin' Alive," I could no longer resist. I jumped up, grabbed a microphone and my woman, and cut loose. The girls squirmed as they watched, stunned, to see a completely new dimension of their normally buttoned-up parents.
As they say, a picture is truly worth a thousand words...
So the next time someone says "what should we do?", suggest going out to karaoke. You might like it more than you think!